Angel City strikes first, defeats San Diego Wave in budding NWSL rivalry

Angel City strikes first, defeats San Diego Wave in budding NWSL rivalry

Angel City’s Claire Emslie, right, celebrates her game-winning 81st-minute goal against the San Diego Wave on Saturday night in a 2-1 victory at Banc of California Stadium. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The best rivalries take years, if not centuries, to mature into something special.

The Red Sox-Yankees, Coke and Pepsi, even Will Smith vs. Chris Rock didn’t happen overnight. They were all built on history, emotion and, at times, bad blood.

Contrast that with the battle brewing between Angel City and the two San Diego Wave NWSL expansion franchises in Southern California. Both teams played their first games just five months ago. And they didn’t meet in a regular season game until Saturday.

Is that enough to create a rivalry? Maybe not.

But it’s a start.

“When Ali and Frazier first went there, people were like ‘wow.’ And it turned into an incredible rivalry,” said former USA women’s coach Jill Ellis, president of Wave. I don’t think it matters that he’s not 100. There’s nothing bigger than when you’re playing against the team just up the street.

“These rivalries, they have to start somewhere.”

This one began with a hard-fought 2-1 win by Angel City in front of an announced crowd of 22,000 at Banc of California Stadium. The decisive goal came from Claire Emslie, newly arrived from Everton of the England Women’s Super League, two minutes after Tyler Lussi’s second yellow card left the team shorthanded.

Ali Riley scored the other goal, his first in the NWSL, for Angel City (5-4-2) in the ninth minute. Kristen McNabb played for league-leading San Diego (6-3-3) early in the second half.

Angel City's Ali Riley, left, and Sydney Leroux get excited after Riley scored in the ninth minute against San Diego.

Angel City’s Ali Riley, left, and Sydney Leroux get excited after Riley scored in the ninth minute against San Diego. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Although Saturday’s game marked the first time the teams have faced each other in the league, they have met twice in the NWSL Challenge Cup preseason, with San Diego winning once and the other game ending in a draw. draw. But the front offices of the two fledgling franchises have been battling to recruit players and recruit staff for more than a year.

“We lost players in San Diego,” said Julie Uhrman, co-founder and president of Angel City. “If you were a player and you want to play in Southern California, now you have two choices. So it’s definitely a rivalry.

“We have a lot of the same ingredients, but it’s the differences that will draw people in.”

Indeed, the teams have more in common than differences. Both are ambitious first-year franchises that together planted the NWSL flag in the fertile soil of California football, ground the league has long ignored. Both have respected and well-funded owners, billionaire Ronald Burkle in San Diego and a sprawling group of more than 100 people in Los Angeles, one led by a glittering crowd of Hollywood stars, award-winning football players the World Cup and companies with deep capitalist pockets.

And both front offices are seen as progressive and forward-thinking, interested in changing the sometimes-frozen NWSL while being a force for social change in their communities. This led to the rivals working together off the pitch more often than they competed on it.

“We’ve actually been quite transparent with each other; what works, what doesn’t,” Uhrman said. “We shared financial models, we shared strategies because we want them to succeed.”

But this cooperation ends when the whistle sounds.

“I absolutely want to win,” Uhrman said. “We want to be the best in Southern California. We want to be the best in the league. So yes, we consider it a rivalry.

“I am a competitive person. We are a competitive club.

And competition thrives, as rivalries do, when both sides care about more than the final score.

“I haven’t been in California that long, but I’m already starting to feel the vibe between Los Angeles and San Diego. It’s a rivalry that exists,” said Angel City coach Freya Coombe, who grew up outside of London.

Ellis is convinced Saturday was the start of something special – and Emslie made sure it was a memorable start, coming off the bench to score 36 minutes into his NWSL debut.

“The reality is it’s going to grow and grow and grow,” Ellis said. “It will only intensify over time.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.